LITTLE DID JU MING know when he took up tai chi more than 30 years ago that the ancient martial art would become a source of artistic inspiration that would lead him on to international fame. 'I started tai chi to help strengthen my body, but after a few months I decided to try to use what I'd learned in my art,' says the 66-year-old Taiwanese, who is now one of Asia's foremost sculptors. Ju's Taichi Series, which he started in the late 1970s, features large, angular, bronze sculptures frozen in exercise poses, reflecting the basic tenet of the highly spiritual Chinese self-defence and meditation exercise: 'In stillness, there is movement, and in motion, repose.' Earlier this month Ju unveiled the last of the series, Taichi Arches. They're part of a six-month, multi-venue exhibition now on show in Singapore, and featuring 72 works by the artist. The show will travel to Shanghai and Beijing next year. Ju, who has his own museum in Taipei, is known for creating large-scale works. His current show - which is jointly organised by the Singapore-based iPreciation gallery, the Singapore Art Museum and the Ju Ming Museum in Taipei - includes 72 sculptures placed all over the city state. The Arches are at the Singapore Art Museum and on Orchard Road, the main shopping strip. Works from Ju's acclaimed Living World Series are on show in the immigration halls of Changi Airport (Parachute) and in front of the Fullerton Hotel in the heart of the financial district (Gentlemen). His latest offering from the series, Monk, which is on display in front of the Singapore Art Museum, was inspired by the Venerable Ming Yi, a Singaporean monk who performs dangerous stunts to raise funds for charity. 'We had to close two lanes to traffic on Orchard Road in the middle of the night to install the three arches,' says Helina Chan, managing director of iPreciation. 'But we wanted to reach out to as many people as possible and not just have the sculptures in the museum, which is why we chose a venue like the airport, where so many tourists transit every day.' With The Arches, Ju crystallises the energy of tai chi into pure, abstract, sculptural form. 'When I first started practising tai chi I practised by myself, so all the forms of the earlier series are mostly single,' Ju says. 'But as you practise more you need to learn 'pushing hands' and you need a partner to practise with, which is why you see, later on, two sculptures 'pushing hands' in more abstract form. 'As you go further and further you become more skilful and the energy is floating with your partner. The Arches evolved from the representation of two tai chi masters in the pushing hands position. This is the final step, when the two bodies connect. They are more abstract than earlier works in the series, and they also impart a stronger sense of motion. In the older pushing hands works there's still a gap between the two bodies. Now, I have connected the two sides so that the energy and tension of musculature flows between them as one body that evolved into the shape of an arch.' Singapore Art Museum curator Joyce Fan likens the artist's use of a chain and hacksaw on styrofoam to that of a painter's brush on canvas. 'Ju Ming creates strong lines for his sculptures, scooping away what is not necessary to instil them with energy and dynamism,' she says. Using the sand-casting method, the final work in bronze is produced with the tactile qualities imparted to the quick successions of cuts and the foam's surface patterning. Ju attributes his success to 'very hard work', 'some luck', and the themes he chose for his subject matter. Although he says it wasn't a conscious decision at the time, the west's fascination with tai chi has helped him cross the cultural divide. Ju started his professional life as a craftsman of Buddhist statuaries. He studied under Li Chin-chuan, but the 15-year-old had more artistic aspirations. Ju recalls asking his master what kind of work he could make to enable him to participate in an exhibition. He was told to look at sculptures from Huang Tu-shui, a pioneering artist from the 1920s whose combination of realism with folk sculpture inspired many succeeding Taiwanese sculptors. So, Ju took photographs of Huang's works, and started to make similar pieces. 'Even at a young age, I was never quite contented following other distinct crafts,' he says. 'And I was already interested in pursuing my own art.' After he finished his apprenticeship, Ju worked for a while making Buddhist statues. Then, at 30, he made a life-changing decision. He asked Taiwan's leading modern sculptor Yuyu Yang (who died in 1997) to take him on as a student. 'I chose him because I believed he was the best,' Ju says. 'With Master Li I learned the technique, but with Master Yang I learned how to create and not just copy.' The artist has worked concurrently on the Taichi Series and the Living World Series, whose style draws on the teachings of his first master, who coloured wooden sculptures. That series, which studies body language in everyday events, started in the 1980s and continues to date. 'I will never finish the Living World Series because it's a never-ending subject. It's my reflection on what's happening now,' he says. Ju practises tai chi daily. He says eating is 'a waste of time', and prefers to immerse himself in art, getting up as early as 5am and working all day, stopping only for a brief siesta at 10am. He's now absorbed in a massive new work for Living World Series, National Troops. He plans to unveil his army of 300 life-sized modern Taiwanese soldiers in September next year, for the anniversary of his museum in Taipei. This year, he hopes to finish 60 naval pieces. Ju is often likened to Henry Moore, a comparison he says he finds 'very flattering'. 'There are similarities between the two artists,' says Kwok Kian Chow, director of the Singapore Art Museum. 'Beyond their huge sculptures, which are quite different in style, both of them are concerned about humanity and trying to find some universal form that would capture the spirit of humanity. But while Moore's sculptures are smooth and biomorphic, dealing with the human body, Ju Ming's are more angular and centred on the human energy, based on the qi, the pushing and pulling.' Oxford University art historian professor Michael Sullivan says Ju could be called 'the Henry Moore of the east'. But he points to a major difference between the two artists. 'Moore's work is more 'classical', more purely formal. Even his drawings of Sleepers in the Underground during World War Two are formalised, and to that extent dehumanised. 'There is formal rhythm in the contours of his figures, but the figures don't move. By contrast, Ju Ming's figures are intensely alive and human, full of character, movement and tension.'